World leaders demand Ukraine ceasefire to assess downed jet
US intelligence authorities say surface-to-air missile destroyed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
World leaders have called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine as they demanded speedy access for international investigators to the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner shot down over the country’s battlefields.
The strong words came amid contrasting images of emergency workers and off-duty coal miners fanning out across picturesque sunflower fields searching for charred pieces of wreckage from the Boeing 777.
The missile attack on the civilian plane killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations - including holidaymakers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an Aids conference in Australia.
“The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out,” he said at the White House.
US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. US ambassador Samantha Power told the UN Security Council in New York the missile was likely fired from a rebel-held area near the Russian border.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting and the Russian government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all denied shooting the plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.
After holding an emergency session, the UN Security Council called for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of the plane.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said both sides in the Ukrainian conflict should put down their weapons and hold peace talks. He has blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying Kiev was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and did not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn today as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon towards the Russian border.
Ukraine’s state aviation service has now closed the airspace over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting - Donetsk and Luhansk - and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine.
Access to the sprawling crash site remained difficult and dangerous. The road into it from Donetsk, the largest city in the region, was marked by five rebel checkpoints, with document checks at each.
A commission of around 30 people, mostly officials representing the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, travelled to the crash site this afternoon - the first such visit there by an international delegation.
“No black boxes have been found ... we hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened,” Donetsk separatist leader Aleksandr Borodai said.
The crash site was spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine - Rozsypne and Hrabove.
In the sunflower fields around Rozsypne, 40km (25 miles) from the Russian border, lines of men disappeared into thick, tall growth that reached over their heads looking for bodies.
About 70 off-duty coal miners also joined the search.
In Hrabove, several miles away, large numbers of sticks, some made from tree branches, were affixed with red or white rags to mark spots where body parts were found.
Andrei Purgin, a leader of the pro-Russian separatists, said the bodies will be taken to the government-controlled Black Sea city of Mariupol.
The area has seen heavy fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists, and rebels had bragged about shooting down two Ukrainian military jets on Wednesday in the region.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed Kiev’s accusations that Moscow could be behind the attack.
“Regarding those claims from Kiev that we allegedly did it ourselves: I have not heard a truthful statement from Kiev for months,” he told the Rossiya 24 television channel.
He also said Russia has no intention of getting its hands on the plane’s black boxes and added they should be given to international aviation organisations.
Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk described the attack as an “international crime” whose perpetrators should be punished in an international tribunal.
Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lay insisted again that the airline’s path was an internationally approved route and denied accusations the airline was trying to save fuel and money by taking a more direct flight path across Ukraine.
Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued previous warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in March. Within hours of the crash, several airlines announced they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.